A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were getting ready to send off a baby gift to friends in California. After tucking in an extra treat for their older daughter so she wouldn't feel left out, my boyfriend started writing a note to the family. Everything was fine until he started writing an aside to the "big sister," telling her we'd included something just for her "so she wouldn't feel . . . "
I practically pulled the pen out of his hand before he could write another word. "Were you going to write 'so she wouldn't feel left out?!,'" I asked. "Yeah, what's wrong with that, isn't that the point?" Well, yes and no.
What I told my boyfriend, and what I'm about to tell all of you, is that if a child hasn't already mentioned or demonstrated a specific negative emotion, you should never put the idea in their head that they should be feeling badly. And when you tell a perfectly content child not to feel left out? That's exactly what you're doing! Three major don'ts to avoid while talking to kids (unless of course, the downward spiral has already begun!) are:
1. Don't feel left out 2. Don't be scared 3. Don't be jealous
A friend of mine told me about a boy who was told "don't be jealous" when his new baby sibling arrived home from the hospital. It had never occurred to him to feel jealous, but when he realized that his parents specifically didn't want him to act that way, and that he could get extra attention just for stomping his feet and acting out—oh, boy, did he!
And by projecting fear onto situations that children might otherwise take in stride (going to the doctor, first haircut, sleeping in a new environment), you're teaching them that other people—including you, potentially!—are scared in those situations, and that there's actually reason to be afraid, even when that's the opposite of the point you're trying to get across.
The thing is that children look to us to model their emotions and feelings. If we want our children to be brave, confident, and happy (and I'm pretty sure most of us do!), then we really need to try to show our little ones courage, confidence, and happiness not only through our actions, but through our words. So if your little one has a little trip and fall, but hasn't reacted yet—skip the sad face and the "Oh no!" that might come instinctively to your lips, and try out a smile and a shout-out to how brave he is for getting right back up again. You just might be surprised at the results.
We all slip up now and then, of course. Have you had a bad experience with one of the don'ts? What do you think are other things we shouldn't say to our children?
Image of jealous child via Shutterstock.